Fiction for the Spoken Word
THE QUEST FOR FORM ("search" would imply an organized process):
The delicate condition of fiction known as the “reader’s willing suspension of disbelief” is a modern form and its birth went through many midwives.
In 1859’s A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens used “condensation” to reduce word burden, maintaining urgency at that breakneck pace at which his characters saw events carrying all before them. We can contrast this with Hawthorne’s novel The Marble Fawn two-years later which makes no attempt at “condensation” and, instead, he shoots his mouth off at every turn, ruining a spooky story. And so, we become modern by fits and starts.
But now to my main point. The least modern thing we could do (and the surest to ruin the “reader’s willing suspension of disbelief”) is to break the 4th wall. This, Dickens does twice in Two Cities: once in the chapter after Jerry Cruncher’s hell-for-leather midnight ride, and once as the carriage flees the terror of Paris bearing away Lucy, her daughter and father and the faithful Mr. Lorry of Tellson’s Bank. Remember that Dickens used third person omniscient throughout, except twice. He breaks the 4th wall with a quick string of 14 first person pronouns in the first example and with 24 first person pronouns in the second. His reason in the first is to tell the reader how inscrutable characters are, and in the second is to get into the coach to flee the terror along with his own characters.
Fits and starts.
On the eve of the modern novel (Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway), we find E.M. Forster smashing the 4th wall in A Passage to India in 1924 when he addresses the reader directly to apologize for the muddled scene in the Malabar Caves.
Fits and starts.
But now I must wonder if we are coming full circle. We know how seminal the invention of the camera was for the Impressionists. We know how movies have affected the way we write the novel. All of this for the better. But now I wonder if the finest thing ever to be on television, The 9-year series, The Office, has conditioned us to once again regard the creative source as part of the entertainment. This, when we see the cameraman becoming a part of the story and even coaxing soliloquys from his characters.
I wonder about this because, as I write my 7th novel, my being 71-thousand in, I realize that I have smashed a 4th, a 5th and a 6th wall. And it was formed this way in the first push as I wrote the first 2 chapters and the last chapter before the middle.
Although I must say that I believe it’s working, despite the structure making of it an acid-tripping mind-fuck of a story.
Fits and starts.
But even-so, I worry over this work of mine in progress by recalling Willa Cather’s 1925 novel The Professor’s House, In this, she slowed down to pull her story off to the side of the road, took the key out of the ignition, and told us the Tom Outland Story of the Hidden Indian Village. Her novel is a magnificent ruin. Tom’s story cracks the structure and makes us worry for a writer in distress. She would have done better making of it a novella and a novelette. Hemingway had similar frets over To Have and To Have Not in 1937, which he said was made from scraps. Fits and starts.